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How 'To Catch A Predator' Will Get A Second Life

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Former To Catch a Predator host Chris Hansen is back, and he's looking to catch even more predators in a new show titled Hansen vs. Predator. LAist spoke with Hansen about what viewers can expect from the upcoming show.Though you may still see re-runs of To Catch a Predator when flipping through the channels or updates on Dateline, the last original episode of the reality show was filmed in December of 2008. Chris Hansen told LAist that after a considerable demand from fans to bring the show back, they decided to give it a shot. A Kickstarter emerged for the new show, and the team ultimately raised $89,068, which was 118 percent of their original goal.

Hansen said that the new show will be similar to To Catch A Predator, in a way.

"We'll be having decoys come into different areas where predators may exist to conduct our investigations," he said. "That will be similar. We'll set up a house or a public place."

The biggest difference is their partnership with LexisNexis—the company that specializes in legal and business research will allow them to "find out more about a person before they actually show up at the location to be interviewed." He adds, "So, I can envision a scenario where we could show somebody's life—they're a teacher or a doctor—so you have a fuller picture and a better investigation."

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Technology has already change drastically since 2008. When TCAP first aired, the show was was using chatrooms via AOL and Yahoo! Now, people have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Kik and numerous other means to connect with strangers. At any given time, people are accessing mobile devices that allows them to keep contact with numerous strangers, 24 hours a day.

To Catch a Predator was something of a cultural phenomenon, spurring numerous parodies on The Simpsons and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Insane Clown Posse even wrote a song about the show. Hansen said it was a big deal for his sons, who are now 21 and 23, to see their father on South Park. Solemnly asking someone to have a seat became something of a trope.

Hansen said he always thought that at some point, people would stop responding to the decoys. He thought two or three episodes would air, and that'd be it. However, they filmed over 30 hours of TV. "People just kept showing up. It got to the point where people would say, 'You're Chris Hansen.' It's not a game show, for God's sake."

The show was not without controversy, with critics accusing Hansen and his team of entrapment and of ruining the lives of both perpetrators and their families by publicly airing humiliating moments on national TV. Regardless of whether the men on the show were ever convicted of a crime, their names and faces had already aired. Regardless of whether they do their time or community service and never hurt anyone, they've already been labeled 'predators.' Others argued that the men caught by TCAP were often looking for and otherwise may have found a real victim. And then there was the case of Bill Conradt.

Conradt, an assistant district attorney in Texas, committed suicide in 2006 after allegedly communicating with a decoy posing as a 13-year-old boy. According to transcripts of the conversation from a citizen watchdog (and vigilante) organization Perverted Justice, Conradt, masquerading as a 19-year-old college student, asked for explicit photos of 'Luke,' and even spoke with an actor pretending to be Luke over the phone. Conradt eventually stopped responding to Luke's calls and messages, and Perverted Justice claimed he was deleting things from his MySpace page to hide his behavior. Authorities then showed up to Conradt's house and after several hours, a SWAT team forced their way inside. There, Conradt shot and killed himself.

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Later, an article in Esquire showed that Conradt had not made changes to his MySpace for months, though Perverted Justice alleged that he had other pages. They did not ever produce these pages for proof. The founder of Perverted Justice, Xavier von Erck, was the subject of his own expose in Gawker. It brought up the time he posed as an adult woman online in an effort to seduce someone he did not like and ruin him, and how he blew the money he received from NBC—not on his Internet safety foundation as promised but on himself.

Hansen brought up entrapment in our conversation on his own, saying he was talking with some people at Perverted Justice because they're "smart and good at what they do. We want to avoid entrapment. You don't want to induce someone who wouldn't normally do that if you weren't doing an investigation. That's not fair."

However, Hansen said that in most cases, legally-speaking, the transcripts are enough. This is true in Texas, where Conradt lived. So, to try to avoid grey areas, Hansen it's important that his team never makes the first move in a chatroom and uses a photo that is unmistakably of someone who is under 18. The decoys, thought obviously adults in real life, all say they are between 12 and 14 yeas old.

"Twenty and 15 may not be appropriate, but it's too much of a grey area," Hansen said. "The point of the story is the grown men out there who will prey on underage children who are vulnerable and break the law doing so."

Hansen said he also sees a difference between a young man in his early 20s who makes a bad mistake, while acknowledging how damaging it might be for the fictitious 14-year-old if they were a real person, and someone much older whose a repeat offender. What's worse is an offender who proceeds with a deliberate method of turning someone into a victim.

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"When you read hundreds of [these transcripts]—and you want to shower after reading some of them—there's a very definite grooming process that goes on. When I was growing up, parents told their kids not to talk to or take rides from strangers. But the reality is that with online communication, the person that's a stranger on Tuesday might not be a stranger on Friday. The grooming process is a way for an adult to break down a person who is vulnerable. 'It's not weird, I've done this before.' Maybe it's a fractured home, and [the adult says], 'I can help you with something' or 'here's a gift.' Some of [these men] are crass and graphic right up front to see what will happen, but some will chit-chat until they finally show up. You can see this grooming process."

But does this kind of justice help or hurt? Does anyone who just made one of these "bad mistakes" recover from an appearance on TCAP? Hansen said they'd have to follow up on it, and they have in some cases. He said there have been men who went to prison and who he's absolutely certain would never reoffend. "And I know there are guys who are just bad guys," he said.

He said one guy did a year in prison, but showed up at two separate stings. Hansen acknowledged that he suffered from mental illness, "but as much as you have sympathy for this guy, he's a danger." Another man Hansen met during a sting in a D.C. suburb showed up naked to meet the decoy. Embarrassing, right? The next day, Hansen said he found out the guy was trying to meet up with a 13-year-old boy online.

"I've been in this business going on 30 years and I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I [didn't] know what to ask first."

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This almost seems like it can't be real, but here's the arrest record.

I asked Hansen if they'd ever encountered a woman in any of their investigations, and while he said that one of the men said something about bringing his wife or girlfriend along when he went to meet the decoy, there was no proof that the woman was aware of her partner's online activities. "Generally, the profile [with female predators] is more the teacher/student type relationship," he said. "Women typically don't like the anonymity of it—they want to form, albeit inappropriate, some kind of bond—whereas the male predator gets off on the whole anonymity of the thing, the chance encounter."

Hansen said that Hansen Vs. Predator will be underway before the end of the year and that the team is already meeting with distributors and law enforcement agencies across the country. He also said that while the show will continue to focus on adult predators going after children, they may expand into other types of predators, including financial scammers and other online bad guys. He mentioned a friend from his home state of Michigan who was approached by a modeling agency who said they needed to license his photos, so they'd send him $1,800, which he'd deposit and then wire to Western Union. Ah, yes, that old ruse.